The Finances of Seasonal Work

Firstly, when I use the term “seasonal work” on this website, I mean work at hotels, ranches, and lodges that has food and housing and has a season of operations. if you want to learn more about this kind of work, click here to read my introduction post.

Let’s say you’ve decided to give this whole seasonal work thing a try. Good for you! You’re about to embark on an epic adventure! But before we get ahead of ourselves, we should really discuss the financial aspect of going to work at a seasonal job. You have to worry about getting there, buying the essentials for your new dorm, and paying bills and possibly rent back home while you’re working.

The Pay

In one of my earlier blog posts, I skimmed over how much you can expect to be paid. Most seasonal jobs pay well over the minimum wage, but it depends on the nature of the work. As you might expect, different positions will reap different salaries. Some positions, like housekeeping and waitressing, work for tips most of the time and some positions like line cook and front desk agent pay better because the job is more stressful.

Back in my Yellowstone job, I was making around $11 an hour chopping onions and making meat patties and my fellow line cooks were making as much as $13.75 working their butts off cooking for the restaurant.

In my housekeeping job in Signal Mountain, I earned $11.50 and took home around $370-$400 every two weeks after taxes AND my housing and food were deducted. I also got over $400 at the end of the season from tips.

When my boyfriend was working in Many Glacier, he was getting paid only $9 per hour and didn’t get a bonus or tips. What I’m trying to say is, it really depends on the company.

Because seasonal work attracts a lot of college people in the summer, many, and I mean, like 95% of seasonal jobs, will offer bonus incentives for people to stay the entire season, whether that be in summer or winter. Usually, you only get the bonus if you’ve stayed and worked through your entire contract. As an example, I received a $330 bonus for being a housekeeper along with a $1,100 bonus along with everyone else at my Grand Teton job.

Also, keep in mind that when you file your taxes at the end of the year, you will have to include whatever state you worked at in your information. If you don’t want to be taxed during your seasonal job, go to a state like Wyoming, for example.

Housing and food

DISCLAIMER: It’s important to note that not all seasonal jobs on Coolworks and Vagajobs come with housing- some don’t. Some will have partnerships with a nearby apartment complex and will give you a discount on rent, or expect you to find a place on your own.

The two jobs I’ve had in Wyoming have both taken $400 in rent and food out of my monthly paycheck, paid biweekly (so they took out $200 from every paycheck). From what I’ve heard and read on Coolworks, $400 a month seems to be the standard across all lodges in the Tetons, including Jackson Lake Lodge, Colter Bay Village, Signal Mountain Lodge, Flagg Ranch, and Jenny Lake Lodge.

Some jobs don’t even charge for room and board! my first seasonal job was at Colorado Trails Ranch, which doesn’t charge for their cabin style dorms and three meals a day.

If the price of housing is important to you, make sure to scout around on Coolworks and on company websites directly to find out how much they charge for their dorms, if they have them.

Many places also have options for RV’s as well, which might end up costing you less for rent. It highly depends on the company though, so always do your research.

Sometimes, your dorm also comes with a security deposit that you will get back at the end of the season (unless you screwed something up). In my experience, it’s been $150-250.

Employee Perks

Another cool thing about these kinds of jobs is that they offer major perks for working there. For example, if you work in a dude ranch, expect to get free or discounted horse rides. My first job in Colorado Trails Ranch offered the first ride free with the second being discounted, and it also offered discounted fly fishing and free kayaks to take to the lake on days off. Note that some states will still require a fishing license however.

If you work in a ski resort, on the other hand, you can expect free ski lifts and ski rentals almost every time. This is a fantastic opportunity for ski and snowboard lovers.

If you work in a National Park, chances are that your place of employment will give you a National parks annual pass, or at least a pass to the National Park you are working in. That gives you the freedom to venture in and out of the park for free.

Other perks may include discounts at the restaurant, gift shop, or convenience store, is there is one. Sometimes, employers will incentivize you with a free restaurant meal or a gift shop gift card if you pick up a shift.

Watch out for easy-to-reach temptations

So when working seasonal jobs, you are most likely going to work in a place that has a restaurant, and maybe even a gift shop or general store. Nothing is more convenient than a convenience store, and I’ve seen a lot of my coworkers blow their paycheck away by buying overinflated goods because it’s hard to get them in town an hour away.

It’s definitely tempting to get snacks and a six pack when you are in a remote location. Spend your money wisely and buy in bulk in town rather than spending seven bucks on a measly box of Oreos and a Pepsi.

This is one of the toughest things about working a seasonal job- working in a place that isn’t close to town, or even a Walmart. That’s the case for a lot of lodges and ranches and resorts, so be prepared to not always have a fridge stocked with snacks. Buying in bulk or from Amazon should do the trick. Keep restaurant visits to a minimum as well, because even though you will probably get a discount, it still racks up.

Also, make sure to take everything you will need with you for the season if you can. If you’re working a summer job, make sure to take warm clothes as well for those odd days and for the end of the season when the weather turns. Make sure to have different shoes for different occasions, like hiking boots, sandals, water-proof shoes for rafting and kayaking, and shower shoes. You don’t want to drop money on something you already have and have just left at home.

Retirement and Health Care Plans

One major issue with seasonal work is that, in a vast majority of cases, these jobs don’t offer a 401K or health insurance. This is why it’s crucial for anyone wanting to do seasonal work long term to have some kind of IRA and, hopefully, health insurance from the Healthcare Marketplace. Having these plans in place will give you peace of mind for when dealing with medical bills and emergencies and retirement.

If you are living the seasonal work lifestyle, there is a good chance that you will be in the income bracket to receive government credit for an individual health care plan. That means depending on what plan you select, the government could potentially pay it for you. Because seasonal work is all across the country, it is important to ask a lot of questions when applying for a plan and make sure that you have widespread coverage.

Now, onto retirement accounts. I don’t know much about them, but what I do know is that the sooner you start investing, the better. Many companies offer a 401k, but if you are jumping from company to company each season, you are probably out of luck. That means that you should look into creating a traditional or Roth IRA. While most banks offer these accounts, it is better to start an account with a firm that specializes in IRA’s like Vanguard or Fidelity. When you create an account with them, you can connect it to your checking or savings account and set up a recurring withdrawal to take place so you have a monthly contribution. Make sure to do your research when starting an account- you want to know the difference between tax-deductible contributions and non-tax-deductible, and how much you can contribute within your income bracket.

Because of the unstable nature of these types of jobs, it is important to take finances into your own hands. It doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming if you do the research beforehand and set clear expectations of what you want.

Final thoughts

Working a seasonal gig is pretty rewarding if you don’t have a lot of bills to take care of at home. If you find your lease ending and have no pets or kids to take care of, this would be the optimal time for you to scout out a seasonal job and just go for it.

During my last seasonal job, I managed to take out a $3,000 loan for a car and paid it off by the end of the year without having to even try. I still bought things monthly if not weekly, like snacks, nail polish, hiking shoes, and other random stuff.

Over all, I’ve found that I make considerably more in seasonal jobs than I do in regular ole restaurant and retail jobs at home- keep in mind, however, that I work mostly lower-income jobs. For those of you who are used to a cushy $40,000 annual income, this lifestyle might not be for you.

If you are a young one fresh out of high school or college and don’t have a lot of loans or debt, or a retired hipster looking for a no sweat type of environment, this is an ideal option for you. Housing and food are cheap, and the amount of hours are plenty, so saving up a couple hundred dollars a month is easy to do. As always, do your research and really narrow down what you want from a remote seasonal job, because when it comes down to it, the priority is to have fun and explore new places, but it doesn’t hurt to make a couple bucks along the way.

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